Not from a Wicked Heart: Testing the Assumptions of the Provocation Doctrine
27 Pages Posted: 28 Aug 2017 Last revised: 25 Sep 2018
Date Written: August 24, 2017
The normative logic of the provocation doctrine rests on the long-held, yet untested, assumption that anger can motivate people to act in ways which they believe are morally wrong. Here we provide a frontline inquiry into this premise in the context of the quintessential provocation scenario: a man witnessing or learning of his partner’s infidelity. Among men who had discovered a partner’s affair, anger was more strongly correlated with motivation to retaliate than with judgments as to whether such retaliation was morally acceptable. Moreover, anger explained increases in motivation beyond what could be accounted for by increases in moral judgments. However, these effects were not uniform to all behaviors: anger motivated retaliation beyond what participants thought was morally acceptable only for those acts salient to the function of anger in this context (yelling, pushing, and striking). Taken together, these results partially support the traditional assumptions of the provocation doctrine while calling other aspects of the doctrine’s normative framework into question.
Keywords: Criminal Law, Law and Psychology, Provocation, Heat of Passion, Evolutionary Psychology, Evolutionary Analysis in Law, Behavioral Biology, Morality
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